Plan Before you Shop

Planning your meals

Woman paying for food at the storeThe first step to saving grocery money is planning your meals!  Check what you have on hand and what’s on sale at the store.  Then plan your meals to use those foods.  Planning meals saves you money in four ways:  First, you’ll be able to use what you already have.  Second, you’ll be able to use more items that are on sale.  Third, you’ll have everything you need when you prepare your meals, so you’ll save extra trips to the store.  And fourth, you can plan ways to use leftovers, so you’ll have less waste.  Choose a regular time each week to plan your mealsIt’s the best way to know what you’ll really need at the store.    

Shopping with others

If your main goal is to save money, it’s best to shop alone. Children won’t be there to ask for items that are not on your list or put things in your cart. It will also be easier to compare prices and products to get the best buy. And your shopping trip will probably be shorter. On the other hand, shopping with children has advantages, too. It’s an opportunity to teach them about foods and health, and let them choose healthy foods they might like. If you do take children, plan ahead. Make sure they are not hungry or tired. Plan what and how many choices you will let them have. For example, you might let them choose a vegetable, a fruit, a healthy cereal or snack, or a fun shape of pasta. Then check out in a child-friendly aisle to avoid tempting candy and treats. Plan ahead to get the most from your shopping experience!

Shop when you're not hungry

Have you ever shopped for food when you were hungry? Even with a grocery list it’s easy to put a few extra things in your cart. Markets try to tempt you with fragrant bakery items and beautiful food displays so you’ll spend more money. So be prepared! If you don’t have a chance to eat before you shop, grab a piece of fruit or a granola bar and eat it on the way to the store. Or buy a healthy snack at the store and eat it before you begin your major shopping. You’ll find that it’s worth your time.

Using your time wisely

Woman carrying a wire shopping basket in the storeDid you know that the more time people spend in a grocery store, the more money they spend?  You’re more likely to buy things you don’t need.  Stores are actually designed to get people to stay longer.  They put basic foods like meats and milk in the back of their stores, have long food aisles without shortcuts, and put tempting sales displays where you’re sure to see them.  Some stores even have dining areas and book sections where you can browse.  So shop smart!  Buy just what’s on your grocery list and don’t stay longer than you need to.   

Shopping with a list

Save money by making a grocery list ahead of time and sticking to it when you’re in the store!  Studies show that from 20% to 70% of the groceries people buy are not planned, and those costs add up!   Food companies compete for your dollars.  Sometimes they even pay grocery stores to put their products in prime places such as at eye level or at the end of the aisles, where they can make the most money.   So check out the higher and lower shelves to compare prices of the foods on your list.  If you want to buy a few extras that aren’t on your list, set a dollar limit and stay within it. Use your list and spend smart!

Shopping with cash

If you already grocery shop with cash, then you are ahead of the game.  If you are not used to it, try it. First, check sales where you will be shopping and make a grocery list of the things you need.  Invest in a cheap calculator and go to the store with enough cash to cover your food budget.  You might take a little extra in case you want to stock up on something on sale.  When you are limited by the cash you bring, you are challenged to use your creativity and buy only what you really need. Using cash can be a great money-saver!

Choosing where you shop

When you shop for food, choose a store that’s clean and well supplied, and that has good prices. If the store is busy, the stock will turn over quickly.  Make sure the fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, and meats, look and smell fresh.  They’ll last longer.   Get to know your store, too.  This will help you find what you need and move through the store more quickly, so you’re less tempted to buy extras.  Try to buy bulk and non-food items like detergents and cleaning supplies at discount stores or warehouse clubs where they will cost you less. Choosing and knowing your store can save you money.

Using coupons wisely 

Grocery coupons can save you money, but only if you use them for things you would buy anyway. Most stores have membership cards that give you electronic discounts on their specials at the checkout. Their fliers or websites can tell you the specials for the week. You also can find product coupons online as well as in newspapers and store fliers. If you find a good deal, and the store has run out of that item, ask for a rain check at the customer service counter. But even with coupons, compare prices. Sometimes other brands or store brands are still cheaper! Coupons can be great, but are not always the best buy!

Using insulated shopping bags

Blue ice packsHave you ever seen reusable, insulated shopping bags at the grocery store? They help keep cold foods cold, which prevents the foods from going bad too soon. These bags are a great investment, especially if it takes you a long time to get home from the store. If you avoid buying cold foods because you can’t keep them cold on the way home, then these bags will give you more food options. The bags work especially well if you bring ice packs or buy frozen food at the store. Some stores will even give you a discount every time you use the bag. They’re easy to clean, and you should clean them often if you use them for meat. Save money and keep foods safe by keeping your cold foods cold!